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Charles LECOCQ (1832-1918)
Le Petit Duc (The Little Duke) operetta (1872)
complete, with dialogue in French
Elaine Thibault (sop) Duchess Blanche; André Joblin (ten) The Duke; Claude Cales (ten) Montandry; Jean Giraudeau (bass) Frimousse
Choir and orchestra directed by André Grassi
Rec. Universal (Decca) Studios, Antony, France
2 CDs for the price of one
DISCOVERY/ACCORD OPERETTE SERIES 472 874-2 [97:37]

 


Ready to discover something fresh and appealing? In Le Petit Duc we have a charming operetta (an opéra-bouffe, in fact) which is in some ways better than Lecocq's more familiar, La Fille de Madame Angot. Until now no recording was to be found in the catalogue and so we should welcome this re-release. The operetta contains good music, humorous activity and provides a spectacle full of colour and interest with horses coming and going. A good book had been provided by Meilhac and Halévy (who had previously written libretti for Offenbach). Traubner suggests that the piece foreshadows Messager.

Charles Lecocq was born in Paris of poor parents in 1832. It is much to his credit that with his love for music he was able to get into the Paris Conservatoire. There he was a contemporary of Bizet and Saint-Saëns and studied under Auber. With Bizet he went on to win an Offenbach operetta writing competition (1856). He loved the creative potential of the theatre and became involved with it for the rest of his life. Writing over forty operettas it is surprising that self-criticism prevented him from realising more ambitious ideas. His one opera, Plutus (1886), was apparently a failure. With Le Petit Duc however, Lecocq put much energy into the score and the result is a bouquet of excellent ideas, catchy themes and delightful orchestration. The overture starts in a disjointed fashion with drum rolls and chords before breaking into one of the favourite melodies of the work. From then on the overture gathers in interest. The most celebrated numbers in the piece are the Act I duet, C'est pourtant bien doux [CD1 tk.8], the Act III Duke's song Pas de femme! [CD2 tk.10] and the duet, Te souvient-il [tk.11].

The book tells the tale of an aristocratic marriage, set in Versailles and of two lovers whom their parents think are too young to marry and engage in sex. The little Duke and his Duchess are determined in their intention and sing some of the nicest songs ever penned by Lecocq. The 'hot' book had to be watered down before offering The Little Duke to the British public.

Stage performances have worked the best when the Duke and Duchess are played by youthful singers who can come across as sincere in their juvenile flirtations. They are both excellent singers but this is my only reservation about the lead singers. It is true that Elaine Thibault has an innocence about her light soprano voice, but in some numbers she had a veiled timbre, giving the impression she was singing through a muted microphone. André Joblin's appealing tenor was elegant but in my opinion rather too mature for the part. The contrasting voices of Claude Cales (a light tenor) and Jean Giraudeau (a sonorous bass) work extremely well together in their Act I duet. Giraudeau also provides plenty of colour in the Act II duet with the Duke.

The recording is a most agreeable one with optimum miking, clarity and good balance. Although Grassi's pace is initially pedantic he gathers momentum and the score blossoms. A slow reading of a sedate opening chorus is probably intended to convey an air of stately pomp and majesty, but for me the pace of this number doesn't appeal.

Brief notes in French are provided in an attractively produced card case.

Raymond Walker

Operette series from Universal Accord reviewed by Ray Walker

 


Lead part, from Ganzl.

 



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